The Power of Protein in Weight Loss

Published:October 24th, 2011

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Protein is an important component of every cell in the body. Hair and nails are mostly made of protein. Your body uses protein to build and repair tissues. You also use protein to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. Lack of protein can cause loss of muscle mass, decreased immunity, weakening of the heart and respiratory system, and death.

You need about 1 gram of protein for every kilogram of body weight, unless you are in a high metabolic state like pregnancy, healing from surgery or infection. The type of protein you eat may play a role in successful weight loss and in your overall health.

The protein package

Animal protein and vegetable protein probably have the same effects on health. It’s the protein package that’s likely to make a difference. A 6-ounce broiled Porterhouse steak is a great source of complete protein – 38 grams worth. But it also delivers 44 grams of fat, 16 of them saturated. That’s almost three-fourths of the recommended daily intake for saturated fat. The same amount of salmon gives you 34 grams of protein and 18 grams of fat, 4 of them saturated. A cup of cooked lentils has 18 grams of protein, but less than 1 gram of fat.

The bottom line is that it’s important to pay attention to what comes along with the protein in your food choices. If you are partial to beef, stick with the leanest cuts. Fish or poultry are excellent alternatives. Even better options are vegetable sources of protein, such as beans, nuts, and whole grains.

  • Fish: Fish offers heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and, in general, less fat than meat.
  • Poultry: You can eliminate most of the saturated fat by removing the skin.
  • Beans: Beans contain more protein than any other vegetable protein. Plus, they’re loaded with fiber that helps you feel full for hours.
  • Nuts: Good source of protein combined with the good fats. Just be careful with the portion sizes
  • Whole grains: A slice of whole wheat bread gives you 3 grams of protein, plus valuable fiber.

The Bottom Line

  • Get a good mix of proteins. Almost any reasonable diet will give you enough protein each day. Eating a variety of foods will ensure that you get all of the amino acids you need.
  • Pay attention to the protein package. You rarely eat straight protein. Some comes packaged with lots of unhealthy fat, like when you eat marbled beef or drink whole milk. If you eat meat, steer yourself toward the leanest cuts. If you like dairy products, skim or low-fat versions are healthier choices. Beans, soy, nuts, and whole grains offer protein without much saturated fat and with plenty of healthful fiber and micronutrients.
  • Balance carbohydrates and protein. Cutting back on highly processed carbohydrates and increasing protein improves levels of blood triglycerides and HDL, and so may reduce your chances of having a heart attack, stroke, or other form of cardiovascular disease. It may also make you feel full longer, and stave off hunger pangs. Too much protein, though, could weaken bones.

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